06 Apr 2018
Research Question: what is the effect of Intervention policies, from the perspective of the offshore industry, on the mental health of offshore workers?
Based on the views of the offshore representatives who participated in this study, this research identified five themes which aim to explain the effect of intervention policies on the mental health of offshore workers.
5.3.1 Theme One: Mental Health Awareness
Upon reflection of the quotes associated with theme one, it can be seen that P1 is able to expand on how mental health problems can arise, not only from personal experiences but from the workplace itself. According to Mind (2011), employer awareness of mental health at work in the UK is poor, with most senior representatives vastly underestimating the scale of the problem and how it can affect companies worldwide. Awareness of mental health conditions amongst management and their employees, through education, training and communication can reduce negative attitudes and stigma attached to the adjustments being put in place (Department of Health 2012).
Educating people on mental health conditions is seen to be an effective method to fight stigma. A study conducted by Pinfold et al (2005) used mental health awareness programmes in schools in UK and Canada to combat stigmatism and to educate young people on misinformation surrounding mental health conditions. The study provided evidence to suggest that short educational workshops can produce positive change in young people’s views of mental illness. Whilst, this cannot be applied directly to the Oil and Gas industry, it highlights the benefits of ‘awareness raising’ sessions.
However, on the contrary OECD (2012) suggests that increased perceptions of mental health problems i.e. increasing rates of disability benefit, has changed the view of the work capacity of people with mental disorders. This implies that better awareness has led to further exclusion from the workforce. These findings are similar to those discussed in the literature review; whereby Stuart (2006) suggests prejudicial attitudes from employers remain a barrier for those suffering from mental health.
5.3.2 Theme Two: Macho Culture
Organisational culture has been defined as "the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization” (Hill and Jones 2001 p?).
According to Wright (1994) (cited in Lindoe et al 2014 p. 65) the oil industry in western society has always been dominated by a 'macho culture', meaning that macho type values, beliefs have governed the way in which offshore workers think and behave. This supports the secondary findings, as Ely & Meyerson (2008) identified ‘Macho culture’ to be significant barrier when getting males to admit to their mistakes which may have caused or had the potential to cause an accident. However, the present study highlights that this macho culture and masculinity ideals from an organisational perspective are a significant barrier to their psychological help seeking.
Deal and Kennedy (1982) identified four distinct culture types, determined by a combination of two parameters: feedback (praise, rewards) and risk (uncertainty). One of the cultures identified is the 'Tough Guy Macho Culture'. They believe that this culture involves an organisation of risk takers that receive quick feedback on whether their actions were right or wrong.
Culture is learned and reinforced (refer to learning theory) – the Oil and Gas industry has existed for decades, for this culture to remain prevalent in contemporary society speaks volumes. It is important for the industry to ignite a cultural change, because this 'macho culture' no longer fits the ever changing environment.
Cummings & Worley (2005) have conducted research which suggests the following guidelines are effective for introducing cultural change. This first is to formulate a clear strategic vision, display Top-management commitment, model culture change at the highest level, modify the organisation to support organisational change, select and socialize newcomers and terminate deviants and finally to develop ethical and legal sensitivity.
5.3.3 Theme Three: Environmental Downfalls
The participants acknowledge that mental health problems amongst offshore personnel can be linked to the environment, which as discussed in the literature review is isolating and environmentally challenging (Gardner 2003). Several sources of stress and anxiety identified in relation to the isolated location of several North Sea Installations are; sleeping patterns, shared living, lack of privacy, financial insecurity etc. However, Cooper and Sutherland (1987) stated that the key contributor to lower mental well- being was the stress associated with being away from one’s spouse or partner, a factor which was identified within the transcript.
5.3.4 Theme Four: Reliance & Reluctance
It is clear from the findings in Chapter 4, that both participants are in agreement that in order for interventions and support mechanisms to be put in place the employee needs to disclose their mental health condition.
However, it was highlighted by Stuart (2006) that prejudicial attitudes from employers remain a barrier for those suffering from mental health, hence the reason why employees are reluctant to disclose their psychiatric history.
According to Haslam et al’s (2005) study, the reason for employee reluctance is because they feel they may be judged by their employer because the stigma attached to mental illness. Moreover,
However, there appears to be a dissension between P1 and P2 in regards to their organisational reluctance to promote the existing interventions methods to the workforce.
5.3.5 Theme Five: Promotional Shortcomings
The results of the present study suggests that the aim of health promotion in the Oil and Gas industry should be focused on: (1) communicate the intervention methods that currently exist i.e. EAP (2) promote cultural change and encourage a culture whereby offshore workers did not feel ashamed to disclose their mental health condition (3) change the beliefs employees have about their employers regards for their well-being.
Communicating mental health intervention methods shows the workforce that as an organisation they are not afraid to broach the subject, this in turn will encourage employees to come forward and seek the help available to them. Eisenberger et al (1986) stated that employees develop beliefs about the extent to which their organisation cares about their well-being. These beliefs help create an employees’ assessment of whether their employer will reward greater effort and help them to complete their jobs and cope with stressful situations.
Taking a social exchange perspective, such beliefs will be reciprocated through employee behaviours and deference. Evidence suggests that beliefs about an organisation’s concern for employee well-being have a positive impact on an individual’s workforce performance, which, in turn, influences organizational performance (Podsakoff et al., 2000).
There were a number of notable methodological limitations in this research and it is important that these are highlighted before going on to make any conclusions or future recommendations. Firstly, the lack of time and money accessible for the study hindered the amount of research that could be carried out. For example, the researcher would have liked to have used other participants such as OIM’s or Counsellors to collect more detailed data.
Furthermore, another possible improvement that could have been implemented is that rather than giving a questionnaire to participants, personal interviews would have elicited greater information regarding their knowledge and attitudes towards mental health and their organisations current intervention methods. However, the researcher would not have been able to capture as many responses if this qualitative method was used.
From the study it is clear that stigma continues to influence the ways in which offshore personnel deal with their mental health condition. The results convey that levels of depression, anxiety and stress are experienced amongst offshore workers, with high levels of stress being associated with the negative opinions of the current intervention methods in place. Therefore, to maximise support and to ensure the duty of care is being directly adhered to, Oil and Gas companies worldwide should promote and educate offshore workers, onshore staff, and management about mental well-being.
To do this, Management or those in a supervisory role should be provided with an opportunity to attend a two day Mental Health Training courses which are available across the UK, some of which are free and some cost up to £100. This course covers a range of areas surrounding mental health, but most importantly it helps teach individuals to spot the signs and how to approach and intervene if necessary.
Furthermore, prevention and early interventions should be the key focus when improving mental health within the workplace. There are three different types of prevention including; Primary prevention (prevent the onset of the disorder), Secondary prevention (Detect early signs and intervene early) and finally, Tertiary prevention (Early effective treatment to prevent disability) (Martel 2009).
Martel (2009) suggests that the above prevention strategies are essential when preventing work-related mental health problems. However, in order to undertake any preventative program, it is essential that management are committed to change factors within their control and to implement action plans continuously.
The data set obtained in the present study provides opportunities for future research, which could throw further light on how mental health is experienced in the offshore environment and how the oil and gas industry as a whole reacts to these psychological mishaps. Combining the present data with medical history records of offshore personnel and formally reported mental health conditions to employers would be valuable to see whether or not appropriate actions were taken.
Furthermore, the present study did not attempt to identify the specific aspects of the offshore environment which may account for high levels of depression, anxiety and stress. If future research was to be conducted it may beneficial to investigate the key causes of psychological distress in an offshore working environment, so that employers are able to tackle the issues at the forefront with appropriate interventions.
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